Learn PatternMaking: Custom fit dress

This class will guide you through the process of creating a custom dress pattern based on your measurements. By drawing your dress pattern directly onto fabric, you'll leave this class with a finished, wearable dress and the pattern you used to make it.

Each day we will focus on a different part of the process, from measuring correctly, to drafting the pattern, to fitting, and finally sewing.

Please note: Since this class is very densely packed with information, we do not recommend signing up if you are unable to attend one of the sessions. Each class contains some steps that cannot be made up on your own outside of class.

How this page works...

This is the syllabus for your class!  Bookmark or print out this syllabus, as it has important information about supplies, what we are doing each week, and homework (it's fun, I promise!). If you have any questions during the course of the class, please feel free to email me. At the bottom of this page you will find a list of helpful links and PDF's of the materials used in class.

Materials List...

24-30" wide tracing paper

(You can buy a whole roll or pad. You will need 4-5 sheets.) Paper must be see-through. You can find this at Blick in Kenmore Sq, Utrecht in the Symphony Area/Harvard Square, Artist & Craftsman Supply in Central Sq, Cambridge, and other art supply stores. Swedish tracing paper (a tracing paper-fabric hybrid) is also a great option and is available for sale at JP Knit & Stitch.

A water erasable or iron-off marking pen.

Disappearing ink or 'air erasable' pens will not work for this project. If you are using a dark fabric, you might need to use a different type of marking tool which we can discuss in class.

2 1/2 - 3* yards of 100% cotton or linen medium weight fabric

In this class, we'll be drawing your pattern right onto the fabric. Since there is always a margin for error, while your final dress will definitely be wearable, it won't be perfect. I recommend choosing an inexpensive fabric that you like for this 'first draft' and save the super special fabric for your next, more refined version of your custom dress.

*If you are tall, or plan on making a dress that hits lower than the knee, purchase 3 yards.


1/4 yard fusible interfacing

24" all purpose zipper

If you prefer to use invisible zippers and feel comfortable sewing them, feel free to use on instead.

An L Square or clear grid quilting ruler at least 18" long.

I recommend this ruler or this ruler. It is a good investment if you are interested in exploring pattern making or even just for general sewing or drawing.

You can also use a 6x24" clear grid quilting ruler, which is available at JP Knit & Stitch.

A square to draw 90 degree angles if you do not have an L square (optional)

Your usual sewing supplies (pins, scissors, measuring tape)


What to expect in each class session

(please read as it contains important information!)


For the first class...

...please come dressed appropriately for taking accurate measurements!

For best results, please wear clothing that is closely fitting but not too tight. Overly tight or loose clothing will result in distorted measurements and require more fitting in the long run. The best thing to wear would be stretch pants or leggings (that are not too tight) and a fitted t-shirt or camisole. Also, be sure to wear whatever style of bra you wear most often. Feel free to bring these clothes to change into.

In this class, we will take all our measurements and begin to draft our bodice patterns.

Materials Needed: All materials except your tracing paper.

Homework: Think about what kind of fitting issues you sometimes run into either with sewing patterns or store bought clothing.

For the second class...

...bring your in-progress pattern draft on fabric. We will finish the bodice in the first half of class.

In the second half of class, we will draft the skirt pattern. Once bodice and skirt are complete, we will add seam allowance, cut them out, and baste together the dress.

Materials Needed: Everything on the materials list.

Homework: Finish basting together your dress.

Sewing Instructions are also available as a PDF download at the bottom of this page.

For the third class...

...bring in your basted dress! In this class we will help each other to adjust the fit of our dresses, create a new neckline, and trace our adjusted dress pattern onto paper.

Materials Needed: Your basted dress, marking pens, sewing supplies, and your tracing paper.

Homework: Finish taking apart your dress and copying your dress pattern onto paper if necessary.

For the fourth class...

...we will sew up the final dress!

Materials Needed: Dress pieces (disassembled except for darts, if unchanged) , thread, zipper, interfacing, and sewing supplies.

Resources, Links, and Downloads

Here are a few links to hopefully help you along your way in future altering and pattern making!

The method I use to draft the dress is based on the techniques used in Modern Pattern Design by Harriet Pepin and Pattern Making for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph Armstrong.

Modern Pattern Design isVERY retro, so if any of you are interested in 'vintage' style, this book is worth a look. The text can be a little bit outdated (we’ve come a long way, ladies!) but is also a very fun and accessible pattern design method. It is out of print and goes for $100+ on Amazon. However, I have a seen PDF versions (which are often ‘restored’) go for around $20. You can also find the PDF shared online if you dig around. I have scanned the sleeve instructions from this book (download below) in case you are interested in trying out a sleeve.

Pattern Making for Fashion Design is the standard textbook used for pattern making. A new one will run you about $80, but you can also find used copies and earlier editions for a lower price.

If you are interested in pattern making, you should be able to approach most books with the knowledge gained in this class. Let me know if you would like any other book recommendations.

Pattern Alterations Here is an article on using a sloper to alter a commercial pattern to your measurements and proportions. Since your dress pattern is similar to a sloper, you can use it to follow this tutorial: http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/4498/the-merits-of-a-basic-fitting-pattern/page/all

Sloper Drafting Instructions: Other Methods Here is a link to yet another sloper drafting system you might want to try out: http://www.burdastyle.com/techniques/constructing-the-basic-bodice-block

Here is another method to try if you like: http://www.leenas.com/English/draw_patterns.html

Here is a method for draping a skirt sloper instead of drawing one:


Downloads of the material covered in class

Sleeve Pattern from the book used in class

Sloper Measurement Chart

Sloper Drafting Instructions: Front & Back

Muslin Making Instructions      **UPDATED 1/21/15**

Please post below or email taymcvay(at)gmail.com with any questions.